Docs name for flu exams as Covid threatens to coincide with a flu epidemic
British doctors have urged authorities to provide flu tests amid concerns that an influenza epidemic could collide with a third wave of Covid-19.
In a report released Thursday, doctors from the UK Academy of Medical Sciences warned that a resurgence of respiratory viruses like flu and RSV – a common virus that can be serious to young infants and the elderly – is likely to put pressure on the country’s national health would service.
Britain is set to lift almost all Covid restrictions on July 19. However, the country is currently seeing a surge in new cases of the virus that has been linked to the highly transmittable Delta variant.
On July 14, 42,302 people tested positive for Covid in the UK, making it the country with the fourth highest number of new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Doctors warned in Thursday’s report that overlapping symptoms between flu and Covid mean routine tests for both viruses and possibly additional respiratory infections – known as multiplex tests – would be important before an expected spike in winter sicknesses is expected. Medical experts have raised concerns that the UK could be headed for an influenza epidemic later this year, and multiplex testing would help doctors differentiate between viruses, monitor epidemic growth, make timely treatment decisions and reduce transmission rates reduce, it says in the report.
“We strongly support multiplex testing,” said the authors. “However, when this is not feasible, well-evaluated and accurate point-of-care tests for influenza should be used in hospitals, primary care facilities, nursing homes and public pharmacies.”
They added that “the symptoms of influenza and other respiratory winter viruses are usually clinically indistinguishable from Covid-19 without testing,” and warned the demand for PCR testing this year amid the potential increase in winter illnesses with similar symptoms.
A recent study of Covid symptoms in the UK found that the most common symptoms of the virus were headache, sore throat and loss of smell. These can vary, however, and people with the virus can also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and cough, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UK NHS.
The AMS found that while a successful launch of the vaccine would mean that the mortality rate in the next wave would be lower than in winter 2020/2021, continuous transmission of Covid among the under-50s would lead to higher values of “long Covid “than in the previous two waves. The medical panel also warned that the third wave could coincide with a resurgence of flu and RSV if Covid cases rise or stay elevated through the fall and winter, which could put pressure on the NHS.
According to the report, RSV and flu outbreaks can be twice as large in fall and winter as in a “normal” year. Social distancing and lockdown measures had prevented these diseases from spreading at their usual rates during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning population immunity may have been weakened.
“Very low levels of influenza for the past two seasons have resulted in lower immunity than normal, which means a flu epidemic could be problematic,” the report warned. A priority should be making sure vulnerable groups get a flu vaccine, the authors said, although flu vaccines were less effective than those against Covid.
According to the NHS, around 10,000 deaths from flu are caused in a regular year in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, non-infectious diseases like asthma and stroke are also likely to get worse in winter, the AMS report warned, putting more pressure on health services.